Our Children Often Learn Differently

Fortunate is the child with ADHD whose teacher is flexible, innovative, and consistent in providing reminders and organizational tips. This child will have a head start in gaining academically and socially, with increased self-confidence and self-esteem. There are a number of tips that can make life easier for both student and teacher. You, as the parent, can suggest these tips and request they be written in an IEP if your child needs them.

The teacher can be a tremendous influence on how peers view your child. However, teachers as well as others often hold misconceptions and bias towards children with ADHD. Your child is entitled to teachers who have a basic understanding of the disability. Teachers should be provided any training necessary to acquire the tools and strategies necessary for your child's academic and social success. Such training and understanding can be gained in a reasonably short time at any number of high powered workshops held nationwide each year. You have the right to request teachers receive such basic training. With education come understanding and competency, as well as tolerance and respect for the child who learns differently. Indeed, I believe tolerance, mutual respect, and self-respect are the most important elements of a child's education.

If your child has a teacher who is set in the "old ways," has a "my-way or no-way attitude," and views ADHD simply as an excuse for poor performance, I would head right to the principal and request a change of teachers immediately. You do have the right to expect someone with a genuinely positive attitude towards your child.

Successful teaching techniques for the child with ADHD are helpful for all students. It's pretty hard to fault visual reminders, peer tutoring, breaking tasks down into manageable units, use of computers, allowing controlled movement, and a providing a refuge when needed. (We all need that at times. Teachers hopefully have their lounge for short breaks.) If a teacher feels that your child would then have privileges others would not, you might suggest that such techniques be made available to the whole class.

Let's talk about some of these modifications and accommodations.

Great Classroom Accommodations for ADHD

Allow for extra movement. When given a choice, no ADHD child of mine ever sat at a table with feet on the floor to study homework. Indeed, when they had to study in a setting that didn't allow movement, their performance declined. I've seen classrooms where children are allowed to sit on low tables, or even under the tables, to read and write. The room was relatively quiet and orderly, even though there were a number of children with impulsivity and hyperactivity. You see, when the impulsivity and hyperactivity is accommodated, it tends to diminish with such accommodations.

Build a quiet corner. A soft rug, some beanbag chairs, make-due foam pillows in a back corner offers a more natural setting for leisure reading.

Study carrels offer privacy and personal space when needed. Carrels can be placed against the back wall or folding individual carrels can be constructed of hardboard and placed on the student's desk. Student can decorate as desired.

Preferential seating. ADHD students may perform better when seated near the teacher and where visual distractions are reduced. Others are so self-conscious when seated up front, it actually diminishes their performance. This has to be an individual call.

Have an escape hatch for this child. Children with ADHD don't filter incoming information as most people do. You know how you have a certain boiling point beyond which there's no return, until you blow your anger? Children with ADHD usually have a very low boiling point.

Additionally, the overload of sensory input from the natural noises and activities in a classroom can really aggravate the situation. Imagine how you'd feel if you were left in a room with a dozen TV's all blaring forth at the same time on different stations. Children with ADHD often can't distinguish between important incoming information and unimportant information. It all comes in at a feverish, screeching pitch when there's a lot of activity and noise. It's easy for them to totally lose control and no one else around them understands why.

By learning the danger signs, teachers and parents know when to intervene before a youngster loses it. This works at home, as well as at school. Build in breaks for these children if you see the frustration building. For teachers, send the child for a drink, let them sort papers for you by your desk, offer a wet paper towel to wipe their face, anything to give a bit of relief and to redirect them. Losing 5 minutes of teaching time may gain you several hours in the long run.

Home-school communication log. This has been the most valuable tool for staying on top of things. Teachers who haven't used such a log sometimes are apprehensive about the time involved, but once they get used to it, they find it makes life much easier.

As the parent, you accept the responsibility for seeing that it gets into the backpack for school. One person at school accepts responsibility for seeing that it's in the backpack to go home. At no time is this log ever used punitively to write unpleasant opinions or observations. It may include, and should include, encouraging notes from both parent and teachers. It can log any unusual concern and ask to visit with the other party. It can track unfinished homework and timelines for upcoming homework. Teacher and parent design it to fit their needs.

An extra set of books at home. Many parents and teachers are unaware that a child with organizational or impulsive difficulties has the right to have an extra set of curriculum books at home. If a child is distractible and forgetful and getting poor grades for unfinished assignments because books are left behind, ask for this accommodation. I know of a junior high that has recently provided this service for all its students. Life is much easier for everyone.

Classroom Strategies to Help ADHD Kids

Provide a structured setting. Children with ADHD function more successfully with well defined routines.

These children very often fall apart if their routine is suddenly changed or interrupted. Nowhere is this more apparent than when the class has a substitute teacher. In fact, we often find it necessary and helpful to define within a child's IEP what supports will go into place when there's a substitute teacher. It's helpful to assign an inhouse adult who knows the child to inform the substitute of any special needs and to assist when necessary.

Structure shouldn't be at the expense of novelty and innovative teaching techniques. A child with ADHD craves novelty and new ways to learn. Repetition can be extremely difficult to impossible, i.e. worksheets and writing spelling words over and over.

Give a warning shortly before a change of activity will take place. Since they can hyperfocus on an activity of interest, they can be easily frustrated when pulled away suddenly without warning. They often have difficulty transitioning from subject-to-subject.

If you use a reward system, stickers and charts are most likely meaningless to this child. Children with ADHD seem to be born entrepreneurs. A tangible reward, something the individual child enjoys, is much more successful. One team was horrified to learn a teacher had been giving a child a candy bar twice a week as part of working with unacceptable behaviors. The mom just laughed and said "she'll do anything for chocolate, good going!" You see, the teacher's carefully chosen reward was meaningful to the child and had resulted in turning around some really negative habits over the course of that semester.

Children with ADHD are particularly vulnerable to overexcitement and lack of structure at times of transition between classes, at lunchtime, and before or after school. It may be necessary for such a child to pass at a different time, have close supervision, and be redirected if off-task. These are peak times for them to get in trouble for shoving, shouting, speaking out of turn, etc. They don't do well with waiting in line due to both impulsivity and/or hyperactivity. There are creative ways to work around such problem times, but the team needs to brainstorm together on the setting, the time of the repeated problems, and what personnel need to be involved to provide supports.

Children with repetitive behavior issues could be considered for a positive behavior plan and possibly an alternative discipline plan. Through such interventions, they're most likely to learn more appropriate behaviors. These plans can also prevent arbitrary and often unconstructive punishments handed down by personnel not knowledgeable about the child. Write in specific responses for common behavior issues.

Don't ever depend on a child with ADHD to independently ask you for help. They're usually very, very painfully aware of their shortcomings and want to hide them, not showcase them by physically approaching a teacher to ask for assistance. However, if you approach them discreetly, they're most likely to be very grateful for help. A visual cue understood by teacher and student can be helpful.

Children with ADHD often only process about 30% of what they hear. Repeat, repeat repeat. Say it, write it, draw it, sing it, whatever you can think of to present instructions in varying ways. Ask to have the student repeat what he hear you say.

Timed tests can be counterproductive for the child with ADHD who is easily distracted and who doesn't have a built-in sense of time. Frequently, uch tests don't allow this child to demonstrate what he or she actually knows.

More Classroom Tips for Teachers

This child craves praise and encouragement more than the average child. Even if the successes are small, encouragement pays off in higher self-esteem and self-confidence.

Help discover the hidden talents and strengths of the child. Building on the strengths in childhood can build a great foundation for work and leisure in the adult years.

Be aware that the typical child with ADHD has poor social skills and doesn't read nonverbal communication well. They can easily misread a situation. Role playing after the fact can help this child see how a situation might have played out. Asking, "How do you think you might do things differently next time?" can lead to improved problem solving skills as well as improved social skills. This is an excellent exercise for both home and school.

Work with the parents to establish consistent rules and similar rewards. This also demonstrates to the child that you're working with the parents and communicating with them.

Pairing an ADHD child with another student can sometimes assist concentration and organization. Peer tutoring can work wonders helping the child with ADHD stay focused. Sometimes just the nearby presence of a successful student assigned to help can make all the difference in the world. This also encourages the development of social skills.

Passing out a prewritten assignment list can help not only the ADHD child but also children with other disabilities to successfully complete homework. Emphasis on responsibility is shifted to the actual assignment rather than on poor organizational skills, visual perceptual skills, or dysgraphia, (a handwriting disability).

Novelty, novelty, and more novelty. Children with ADHD will not stay on task with repetitive activities. Their worst nightmare, (and teacher's in the long run) is worksheets. Unless it's reinforcing a new concept, they should be eliminated. Individual projects, work centers, an art project, research on the computer, all can reinforce learning areas in a way that will benefit all children. When given the opportunity, these children can come up with some powerful, creative, resourceful projects.

Close communication between home and school. Neither teacher nor parent can afford to let little problems that repeat themselves go unresolved. Little problems have a way of growing into gigantic problems that can damage relationships. Both parties must shoulder the responsibility of keeping the other informed.

Any list of rules for the child with ADHD should be simple and short. Pick your battles carefully. If a child is faced with too many rules, you're likely to get noncompliance to most of them. The child simply can't focus on all of them at the same time. It's amazing the progress that can be made if the focus is on small steps rather than giant leaps with these children. It's critical to keep in mind that the typical child with ADHD is about 30% behind his peers in emotional and social maturity. Because so many of these children are very bright, it's easy to forget their limitations.

Always be sure to have eye contact with this child before giving specific instructions. Some children can't handle close eye contact, and in this case a predetermined signal between student and teacher can be enough to focus attention.

Children with ADHD respond well to positive interventions and discipline strategies rather than punitive interventions. Since punishment only heightens an already over-stimulated brain, it's self-defeating in the long run.

If a child has an IEP and is receiving special ed services, the IEP document is now required to address what extra services and supports you, as the teacher, need in order to be successful with that child. That requirement is a result of the 1997 IDEA Amendments, which is the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. You should not hesitate to take part as a member of the IEP team and let them know if there is an area of concern, and how they can help you address those needs or concerns. You should also be able to rely on all team members, particularly your team administration member LEA for support and guidance when you need it. A good IEP will have those details listed in writing, so you'll know who in special ed is directly responsible to assist you.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2007, June 7). Our Children Often Learn Differently, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 14 from

Last Updated: February 13, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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